This remains my favorite Congressional testimony of all time, with Fred Rogers explaining to a skeptical Senate Subcommittee the value of public television to children.
Attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is a fervent foe of marijuana legalization. But if he were confirmed as President-elect Trump’s top law enforcement official, would he really have any power to put his anti-pot views into practice?
To find out, read my latest piece at Washington Post’s Wonkblog.
Michel Martin and I talked it through on All Things Considered
Five years ago today, I for some reason decided to recommend a classic movie (Bullitt) to RBC readers. It was fun to do and I kept on doing it, week after week except for the occasional guest reviewer. I felt my energy flagging after 150 or so movie recommendations, but then the site was blessed with Johann Koehler’s arrival, who lightened the load with his own recommendations several times a month and thereby kept me going for a time.
I know it’s a popular feature and many people have written me over the years to thank me for recommending a film that they saw and enjoyed,which is always a good feeling. I have also learned some intriguing details about movies and actors from the film buffs who read the site, and I am grateful for that.
But a few months ago, I realized it was starting to feel like a job, even at the reduced level of work made possible by Johann’s contributions, so I have decided to end my recommendations here on this fifth anniversary.
Thanks for reading, and happy movie watching. And with that, over to Porky…
In another one of my “the kids are alright” posts at Washington Post, I focus on the extraordinary drop in imprisonment among the young. Even the large percentage decreases in the chart may not give a sense of how significant the change is: because incarceration rates are highest among young adults, it takes huge moves in the numbers to produce the big percentage drops seen in the chart.
If you believe that the criminal justice system simply is a New Jim Crow whose sole purpose is to lock up people of color consider this: As America is becoming more diverse with each generation, the rate of imprisonment is falling through the floor rather than increasing.
Other implications in my latest Wonkblog.
The idea that a possession or even more creepily a body part of a dead person can take over the life of its living owner has appeared in fairy tales and ghost stories for centuries. In cinema, the touchstone story of this sort is Maurice Renard’s 1920 novel Les Mains d’Orlac, which has been adapted to the screen many times, including in both films I am recommending this week as part of our scary Halloween month tradition here at RBC: The 1924 Austrian and 1935 US version of The Hands of Orlac (The latter is sometimes titled Mad Love).
The story concerns gifted pianist and composer Paul Orlac, whose hands are severely damaged in an accident. He survives his injuries, but his hands are replaced with those of a recently executed murderer by a talented surgeon. As Orlac and his devoted lady love Yvonne attempt to put their lives back together, the murders start again, and Orlac begins to suspect that his new hands are driving him to commit horrible crimes.
The 1924 version is a silent film directed by Robert Wiene and starring Conrad Veidt, who will be familiar as principals of the all-time cinema classic Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which I recommended four years ago this week. Like that famous film, the Hands of Orlac is skillfully made in the expressionist style and is anchored by striking visuals and Veidt’s ability to movingly convey emotion without dialogue. The film was recently restored with a newly composed soundtrack and became deservedly popular on the classic film festival circuit:
The 1935 version is a talkie that changes the story substantially in an effective way. Here, the doctor is the central character and is driven by his lust for Orlac’s wife rather than any desire to help the composer. This was Peter Lorre’s first American film and he’s magnetic as a villain who is loathsome in some ways and pitiable in others. I like this version even better than the original because of Lorre’s strong performance, director Karl Freund’s visual sensibilities and the somewhat tighter pacing than the original.
Here is a short promotional film made for the US release of the 1935 version. It’s more than a traditional trailer because while Lorre was a big star in Germany (See Johann’s recommendation of Fritz Lang’s M), Hollywood had to introduce him to American audiences.
Carl Sagan loved to talk about “billions and billions”
This scale of reference matters significantly for understanding cannabis, a drug which Americans use billions and billions of times a year. The implications are in my latest piece at Washington Post’s Wonkblog.
Following Johann’s recommendation of Bone Tomahawk last week, Halloween month continues with another horror film, this one by producer/director William Castle. Castle was part film maker and part carnival barker, being famous for gimmicks such as placing nurses in theater lobbies ostensibly to aid any viewers who were overcome with fright, wiring seats to give mild shocks when a monstrous “Tingler” came on the screen, and, for this week’s film, pioneering “Emergo” technology which released a skeleton on a wire to sail over the audience. In 1959, he made what I consider his best film as a director: House on Haunted Hill.
Set at the historic Ennis House in Los Angeles, the film’s agreeably silly plot features menacing millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) who has offered a disparate cast of characters $10,000 to spend one night surrounded by ghosties and ghoulies. The event is allegedly a party for his current, faithless, wife Annabelle (Carol Ohlmart), who herself fears sharing the fate of her mysteriously deceased predecessors. The guests are a mousy secretary in Loren’s company (Carolyn Craig), a handsome test pilot (Richard Long), a stuffy psychiatrist (Alan Marshal), a money-hungry newspaper columnist (Ruth Bridgers) and the alcoholic survivor of some of the people who have been murdered in the house (Elisha Cook Jr.). The closing credits also include another cast member, in typical Castle tongue-in-cheek style: a skeleton appearing as “himself”.
I first saw this film on television when I was about 5 years old, and it gave me nightmares for months. I could not appreciate then what I can now, namely that Castle always served his horror with side dishes of corn and ham. There are certainly creepy moments and shocks in the film, but there is also campy fun, much of it courtesy of old hands Price and Cook. It’s also progressively amusing over the course of the film that the majority of Carolyn Craig’s dialogue becomes “Eeeeeeeekkkk!!!!!!!”.
House on Haunted Hill is spooky fun in the best Castle tradition. It makes for perfect Halloween month viewing.
p.s. Not long before he died, Castle got to be associated with one all-time great movie with a real budget behind it. He purchased the rights to Rosemary’s Baby and brought the project to Robert Evans at Paramount. Evans wisely agreed to let Castle produce the film only if a different director (Roman Polanski) helmed the project, and a classic horror film was born.
p.p.s. In case you are wondering, here is the fun-loving Castle’s “Emergo” gimmick in action.
Do you think the rise of violence in America and the subsequent dropoff was due to a generation of super-predators, lead-addled kids or the arrival of legal abortion? If so these data are a challenge to your beliefs. To find out why see my latest piece in Washington Post.
I am giving some lectures in London this week, so I am re-running my 2013 recommendation of one of my favorite of the films I have reviewed here at RBC.
At the right is one of the many memorable shots (accompanied by even more memorable sound!) in this week’s film recommendation, Director John Boorman’s outstanding 1967 US debut film: Point Blank. Point Blank weds the style and techniques of 1960s experimentalism with the traditional gangster/crime melodrama, with unique and unforgettable results.
The film begins with a literal bang, pulling us into a world of brutality and revenge. And then a strange, almost unbelievable story begins as a criminal named Walker who by all rights should be dead (Lee Marvin, in a powerhouse performance) somehow overcomes his fate and launches a ferocious, violence-filled pursuit of his faithless wife (Sharon Acker, also very good) and a former navy buddy (John Vernon, in a strong cinema debut) who betrayed him during a stick-up. He is aided by the mysterious Mr. Yost (Keenan Wynn) who appears at odd moments to provide advice, speaking to no one but Walker. Is Yost a ghost? Is what we are seeing all the fantasy of a dying man, or is it real? I’ve seen this film multiple times and I still can’t decide; I also can’t stop re-watching this magnetic piece of cinematic art.
Adding to the atmosphere is radical use of color that recalls Red Desert. Watch carefully the progression of monochromatic scenes in this film (at left is one of the “yellow” scenes with screen siren Angie Dickinson playing Walker’s sister-in-law), which resonate with Walker’s emotions and the state of his quest. Distorted microphone effects, camera shots and the like are also used to tremendous effect, as are dreamlike scenes without any dialogue (or in one case, only half of a conversation, an amazing improvisation by Marvin). Phillip Lathrop contributes many moody, lonely camera shots that further accentuate the film’s tone. The story, which was based on a Donald Westlake novel, also pushes the boundaries of the period, with graphic violence and the strong suggestion of a sexual link between the two male leads.
The studio executives hated the movie that their young director had created, but Lee Marvin used his enormous star power to ram it down their throats as is. There was clearly more to the man than his drunken brawler image. I can’t say enough good things about what he and Boorman created…don’t miss this one, and have fun analyzing it afterwards!
p.s. Intriguing interview with Boorman about his career available here.